Written by Mufunanji Magalasi—Development Communications Expert, University of Malawi

Group photo of the InnovAfrica-Malawi core Multi-Actor Platform team 24 August 2017 (photo: University of Malawi/ Mufunanji Magalasi)

University of Malawi, Chancellor College and the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) of Ekwendeni Mzimba launched a new international and multi-partner European Union project on food security and nutrition in Africa— Innovations in Technology, Institutional and Extension Approaches towards Sustainable Agriculture and Enhanced Food and Nutritional Security in Africa (InnovAfrica)—between 24th and 27th August, 2017 at Ufulu Gardens Hotel in Lilongwe.

Amongst other things, the meeting saw the successful induction of the project’s high powered Malawi case-country advisory and steering group on innovations called Multi-Actor Platform (MAPs). The meeting attracted a cross-section of stakeholders from government, private industry, academia, local area leadership and non-governmental organisations.

The core group of the Malawi MAPs comprises the Vice Chancellor of Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Professor George Kanyama-Phiri; Director of Centre for Research (CSR) at University of Malawi, Professor Blessings Chinsinga; Director of Biodiversity Conservation Initiative (BCI) in Malawi, Dr Godwin Mkamanga; and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (NASFAM), Dr Betty Chinyamunyamu.

Present in addition to the four core MAPs members were Senior Traditional Authorities Mtwalo of Mzimba and Kachere of Dedza. The two were accompanied by their District Agricultural Development Officers Mr  Tembo for Mzimba and Mr Chapotoka for Dedza. Extension Area Development Officers Mr Chimlomo and Mr Kanyika represented their Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) Lobi in Dedza and Bwengu in Mzimba, in which the project will be implemented.

Speaking to the gathering, Dr Nagothu Sekhar, Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) thanked the members for agreeing to be part of the advisory steering group. NIBIO coordninates the project which is being implemented in six African countries ( Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa).

At the opening of the four day meeting, Vice Principal of Chancellor College, Professor Samson Sajidu thanked NIBIO for its role in coordinating the project and the European Union funding for contributing to research, one of the University of Malawi’s core strategic pillars. Sajidu also noted how research on food security and nutrition contributes to the Malawi Development agenda, and indeed the SDGs.

The MAPs members thanked the InnovAfrica team  for inviting them to the inception of the project, assuring them of their intention to lend their expert perspectives within the context of their various organisations.

The two Senior Chiefs present at the occasion thanked the project for choosing to advance work on food security and nutrition in their areas, following successful implementation of Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology (MAFFA) in the past five years. The District and Area Agricultural Planning and Extension Officers added by assuring support and exchange of information for the advancement of the project.

An exciting component of the project launch was the field visit which presented an opportunity to meet with farmers in Thambolagwa village in Lobi, Dedza and Kacheche area in Ekwendeni, Mzimba. The farmers received the project enthusiastically, sharing indigenous knowledge of locally grown crops like bambara nuts and updating the project team on experiences of those who had tried out crop production intensification by intercropping cereals like maize, sorghum and millet, with legumes like beans, soy bean, ground nuts, pigeon peas and green gram.

Farmer talking to InnovAfrica team about manure in Lobi, Dedza District, Malawi (photo: University of Malawi/Mufunanji Magalasi)

The InnovAfrica is a four-year project running from 1st June 2017 to 31st May, 2021. The project aims at enhancing food security and nutrition through farmer led and participatory practice-led longitudinal research on crops, animal and animal feed production intensification in six case countries: Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia. The project is a collaboration of a multidisciplinary team of experts from African and European countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Norway, Germany, Italy and Netherlands, and it is supported under the Horizon 2020 European Union Funding for Research and Innovation. the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub co-coordinates the project while the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is supporting the development of maize-legume cropping systems.

The research team at University of Malawi Chancellor College comprises of development communication expert Dr Mufunanji Magalasi, and food and nutrition experts Dr Mangani Katundu and Dr Victoria Ndolo. At Soils Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC), the research team includes agricultural and health community development experts Mr Laifolo Dakishoni, Mrs Esther Lupafya and Mrs Lizzie Shumba.

SFHC meeting Malawi
SFHC team meeting farmers Kacheche, Mzimba District, Malawi (photo: SFHC/ Laifolo Dakishoni)